The 60-year-old Borden bovine, with a sleeker appearance in an ad campaign breaking this week, joins updated versions of standards Charlie the Tuna, Uncle Ben, Betty Crocker and the Jolly Green Giant as well as the return of longtime pitchman Mr. Whipple.
The effort marks the first offensive from Dairy Farmers of America, a co-op taking on cheese whiz Kraft Foods with an estimated $8 million to $10 million ad arsenal and the first of several new products.
BBDO, Chicago, is the agency behind the 30-second commercial breaking in spot markets, initially supporting Borden Singles. Elsie makes a cameo appearance in the ads, which use computer graphics to portray a herd of real cows whistling the theme song of "Bridge Over the River Kwai" as they march off to milk.
As they enter a barn, Borden-branded trucks begin to depart with the fruits of their labor. The theme: "Borden brings the dairy home."
This TV spot will be followed up in late September with one showing the cows getting up before dawn-waking the rooster. It will support a new line of Borden Naturals block and shredded cheese.
The group won't disclose markets for the first spot, which begins airing today. But it's likely to cover the 85% of the U.S. where Borden cheese is distributed, which largely excludes the West Coast. In-store advertising, free-standing inserts and public relations will support.
Scott Dissinger, director of marketing for Borden, said the co-op struggled with how to showcase Elsie in the spot. "We're committed to Elsie and leveraging the Elsie equity, but it's evolutionary rather than revolutionary."
More important was conveying its main positioning. "Freshness is the point of difference with the consumer," said Mr. Dissinger, who added that the co-op is affixing a dating label to the front of Borden packages to underscore that point.
"Elsie is being used as a quality reassurance" in the advertising, said Alan Rose, senior VP-client services director at BBDO. This is about "how good things go in and quality comes out."
The co-op faces a formidable rival in Kraft. The No. 1 food marketer in North America controls an estimated 40% of the $1.5 billion single-slice cheese category as compared to Borden's 13%. Kraft, moreover, holds an estimated 20% of the shredded cheese category and 15% of the chunks segment that Borden is now entering.
Borden cheese hasn't been advertised since 1996, said Mr. Dissinger, a lull created by three changes in ownership since 1992.
Maintaining spending may be tough; even Kraft, smarting from surging butterfat prices, slashed cheese ad spending 20% last year.
But the dairy group, which raised consumer prices, insisted it will hold the line on advertising.